Dec 182012

The Daily Advance, Elizabeth City

Published Dec. 15, 2012

Our View: UNC-CH needs to fix flaws in ECSU pharmacy school

The two-year-old pharmacy school at Elizabeth City State University has a lot going for it, but is falling short of meeting its goals.

That’s according to a 13-page report by a seven-member fact-finding group that included two members of the UNC Board of Governors and representatives from St. Louis College of Pharmacy, John Hopkins Hospital, East Carolina University, the University of Maryland and St. John’s University.

In short, the panel concluded that the 52,000-square-foot building at the western end of ECSU’s campus is being under-utilized, that enrollment of pharmacy students is below expectations and that resources that could improve the school are not being tapped.

The panel recommends the pharmacy program at UNC-Chapel Hill take control of ECSU’s operations, as it has done at UNC-Asheville. The report cites the Asheville pharmacy program, which opened in the fall of 2011, as a model of how a satellite of the UNC program should operate.

“The (ECSU) program’s business model is flawed,” the study concluded. “Unlike the UNC-Asheville model, ECSU receives general operating funding, including faculty salaries, and UNC-Chapel Hill collects the tuition, manages financial aid and coordinates recruitment. It’s not clear which campus is responsible for advocating for additional resources for the partnership and how needed resources, if available, would be divided.”

Located at UNC-CH, the highly touted UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, founded in 1897, was ranked second among pharmacy schools in the country this year by U.S. News and World Report. The school educates some 550 professional students and 100 graduate students, post-docs, residents and fellows each year.

ECSU’s program started in 2004 with 14 students. In 2005, the school teamed up with UNC-CH to launch the UNC/ECSU doctor of pharmacy partnership program, with the twin goals of increasing the number of pharmacists in under-served northeastern North Carolina, and boosting the number of black students earning doctorates in pharmacy at UNC-CH.

In the fall  of 2010, a $25 million pharmacy building on the ECSU campus opened, complete with classrooms, science labs, a library, research and computer labs, meeting rooms. Despite the grand building, ECSU had only seven students enroll in the pharmacy program a year ago. The number grew to 12 this year, but it’s nowhere close to the 20 a year ECSU had first hoped it would attract.

That’s not to take anything away from the success of those taking part in the program.

ECSU Chancellor Willie Gilchrist said the bachelor’s degree program in pharmaceutical sciences has grown from 26 students in 2009 to 103 this year, and that the passing rate for students earning a doctorate in pharmacy is 100 percent.

The report noted, however, that one of the objectives — putting more pharmacists in northeastern North Carolina — is not being met. Of the 32 students who graduated from the program between 2009 and 2011, just six began practice in the 21-county region. Fourteen began practice in other parts of the state and nine left the state.

Meanwhile, the need for pharmacists in eastern North Carolina is still high, the report said. One indicator is the area’s high premature mortality rate, which measures the number of people who die before age 75.

“If the 29 counties in eastern North Carolina were a state by itself, it would rank 48th (premature mortality rate) in the nation after Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama,” the report said.

The original agreement between UNC and ECSU is flawed, in part, because the sharing of faculty between the two campuses has not developed in the eight years of the program — “in fact, it may have worsened,” the report said.

“Should the partnership continue,” the report said, “the panel would strongly support a different model, where all programmatic resources be managed under the auspices of UNC Chapel Hill and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy as is the case for the UNC-Asheville satellite program.”

The report noted that the economic downturn was responsible in part for fewer pharmacies opening. The report also said the increase in patients receiving their medications through the mails also had had an effect on the growth of pharmacies. Even so, the need for pharmacists, particularly in rural areas, will continue, the report said.

That means the ECSU program needs to continue — only in a way that is better run and makes better use of its facilities.

To his credit, Chancellor Gilchrist recognizes this and is open to better utilization of the pharmacy building. One option being discussed is a partnership with the Greenville-based Eastern Area Education Center. The pharmacy building could serve as a satellite site for the EAEC.

Abdul Rasheed, chairman of the ECSU Board of Trustees, also acknowledged ECSU should do more to partner with private industry — as UNC-Asheville has done — to produce pharmacists who will practice locally.

The UNC Board of Governors is expected to make a decision on the panel’s report in February. Here’s hoping the UNC governors will continue to see the value of having a pharmacy program — albeit one better managed — based at ECSU.


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